Category Archives: Columns

Paul Kozakiewicz: Happy Birthday Beacon

Wow, has it already been 20 years?

When Chris Rivers and I started the Sunset Beacon in July 1991, we hoped the newspaper would continue to serve the Sunset for many years to come. Our dreams came true.

When we first hit the streets, Chris was out hustling ads and pulling in good stories. The newspaper was regularly 28 to 32 pages at that time and we were working hard just to keep the quality up. After an ill-fated attempt to publish a citywide newspaper from 1995 to 1997, Chris and I decided to part ways so I purchased Chris’ half of the paper.

Since then, a loyal group of talented writers and photographers have been plugging away, working to create the best newspaper possible to serve the needs of the Sunset and to create a sense of community among its diverse residents. We cover the Zoo, Sunset and Golden Gate parks, community organizations, land use decisions, politics, Ocean Beach, mass transit issues, law enforcement and much more.

The current crop of reporters, columnists and photographers are listed in the staff box of every issue, and I thank them profusely for the hard work they do.

Other writers over the years who have made outstanding contributions to the newspaper are Alan Saracevic, Carol Dimmick, Eric Louie, Dana Perrigan, Tom Prete, Eric Tyson, Laura Jacoby-Chatham, Meg Dixit, and Woody LaBounty.

A special thanks, too, to Greg Gaar, the historian who supplies us with vintage photographs of our neighborhood; Peter Tangermann, who takes care of the door-to-door distribution; Philip Liborio Gangi, our photo editor since day one; and Glenn Gulmes, publisher of the West Portal Monthly for his help editing.

Concerning columnists, we are fortunate to get monthly reports from our local police captain, district supervisor and other elected officials, like state Sen. Leland Yee and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. We also get guest columns from many sources, including the SF Department of the Environment.

Another big “thank you” has to go out to the merchants who support the newspaper. Without them, there would be no newspaper.

Some, like Dr. Thomas Thickett, real estate agents Pat Sun, John M. Lee, Diana Matson Smith and Billie Soward, Peg Wallace at Elevation Pilates, Dan Hountalas at the Cliff House and the proprietors at Oceanview Dental and Kiki Japanese Restaurant, deserve a special thanks because they have supported us for most of the 20 years we’ve been in business. Many others have come and gone during that time, but their continual support contributes to the ongoing success of the paper. One such example is the University of California, San Francisco, whose departments use us to communicate with Sunset residents about numerous topics and concerns.

Please tell our advertisers how much you value their support for the local scribes.

On a final note, I would like to thank all of the community leaders and residents of the Sunset who continually tell me about important stories and events and noteworthy people living amongst us. Without your help, it would be impossible to write the first draft of the Sunset District’s history.

Thank you.

Paul Kozakiewicz is the publisher of the Sunset Beacon. Back issues of the newspaper, back to 2001, are available on the website at http://www.sunsetbeacon.com.

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John M. Lee: Mid-year Real Estate Update

As I write this column, the first half of 2011 is just about over. We have had a volatile stock market, rising the first quarter and suffering through a six-week decline of late, bringing the indexes right back to where they were at the beginning of the year. But what about the real estate market? Let us look at some data and really decide for ourselves where the market is at currently and try to figure out where it will be going.

I examined the single-family home markets in the Richmond and Sunset districts because these two markets generally track very closely together and compared them against the data in San Francisco as a whole.

For the first six months in 2011, 89 single-family homes sold in the Richmond versus 79 in 2010, an increase of 12.7 percent. The median price went from $1,020,000 in 2010 to $1,000,000 in 2011, a decrease of 2 percent. The average days on the market decreased by one day, from 64 days to 63 days. Thus, sales activity picked up somewhat this year with prices staying about the same.

The Sunset, however, showed a different trend. There were 176 homes sold during the first six months in 2010 versus 193 in 2011, an increase of 9.7 percent. The median price, however, decreased from $736,500 in 2010 to $660,000 in 2011, a decline of 10.4 percent. The average days on the market went from 56 to 67 days in 2011, a 16 percent increase in marketing time. So, in the Sunset sales activity picked up but the median price decreased, primarily due to more lower-priced homes on the market and a longer time needed to sell a home.

As a comparison, in San Francisco as a whole, the number of single-family home sales decreased by 1.6 percent and the median price decreased by 6.8 percent over the first six months of this year compared to last year. I interpret that to mean as compared to the City as a whole, the west side of town is more active in terms of sales activity, with fluctuating prices.

All numbers show that our market bottomed out in 2009, and that we are up from that point, though our prices have flattened out.

Nationally, the numbers are also mixed, a similar trend we are detecting in San Francisco. Some of it is due to the expiration of the tax credits that ended the first half of last year. Another factor that is affecting the market is the continual high unemployment rate. Though we are off from the peak, unemployment is still in the 9 percent range.

The recent financial crisis in Greece and the decline in our stock market also wiped out part of the funds that would have been used as downpayments for properties. Foreclosures have decreased partly because the government has been pressuring lenders to modify loans and approve short sales instead of letting homes go to foreclosure. However, that strategy might only push foreclosure sales back to a later time.

So, my advice is that if you are thinking about buying and staying in the property for the next five years or more, this is a great time to purchase as prices are good and interest rates are down, resulting in higher affordability. If you are thinking about trading up, it is a great time to do it because though you are selling at slightly lower prices than a few years ago, you are also purchasing at a much lower price, and you will come out ahead on the trade. If you are thinking of a straight sale, you will be getting a slightly higher price than what you would have received the last couple of years.

As always, I strongly recommend you consult with a Realtor, accountant and perhaps an attorney prior to making any real estate decisions.

John M. Lee is a top-selling broker at Pacific Union. For questions regarding real estate, call him at (415) 447-6231.

John M. Lee: Real Estate Year in Review

The real estate market in 2008 finally slowed from previous years, resulting in lower prices and less sales just about everywhere. Even San Francisco started to feel the economic downturn.

Median and average prices in the Sunset, as compared to last year, were lower each quarter and the number of sales also decreased slightly from 2007. The Sunset Home Sales Comparison Table shows the results in 2008 as compared with prior years. The data was gathered from the San Francisco Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service and consists of single-family home sales in the Sunset, Parkside and Golden Gate Heights areas.

In 2008, there were 409 sales versus 427 for 2007 and 498 for 2006, a decrease of 4.2 percent from 2007 and a large drop of 17.9 percent from 2006. This is the lowest number of sales in the Sunset for the past 11 years since I started keeping track of these statistics.

The number of sales decreased because of lower consumer confidence, with bad economic news hitting on a daily basis, and owners not selling because they perceive the market as being very bad and they did not want to make a large financial decision at this time.

The amount of marketing time to sell a home increased to 40 days in 2008, versus 37 days in 2007 and 34 days in 2006, an increase of three days, or 8.1 percent, from 2007 and six days, or 16.7 percent, from 2006. This reflects the fact that homes were selling at a normal pace with some marketing time instead of the panic buying we saw during the peak real estate years.

The annual median price comparison shows a 3.7 percent decrease year over year versus a 2.7 percent increase from 2006 to 2007.

The average sales price decreased 5.6 percent during the year, suggesting that home prices held their own in the Sunset area as compared with the rest of the Bay Area, where some areas experienced 40 percent price declines.

So, how this can we interpret this information? Despite all the bad news – the battering of the stock market, the rise in the unemployment rate, subprime mortgage problems, major bank failures and plummeting consumer confidence ratings – our home prices in the Sunset area held up extremely well because the Sunset is still a desirable area to raise a family, it is convenient to transportation and it has all the amenities that homeowners like to have in a neighborhood.

Thus, even during tough economic times, people are staying in their homes, keeping the real estate demand and supply in balance, leading to stable prices.

What is in store for 2009? I think it will be more of the same with real estate taking slightly longer to sell, and prices being flat or slightly down.

On the national level, the Federal Reserve Banks have been decreasing short-term rates and printing money for the large bailout. We at the real estate industry have been lobbying for part of the bailout money to be used to subsidize new home purchases in the form of lower interest rates to stimulate real estate sales. We believe we will be successful sometime in the first quarter of 2009. Inflation is currently under control and the high number of foreclosures should peak and decrease in 2009. We are hoping for a stock market rebound.

The good news for us in real estate is that mortgage rates have been steady all year and are anticipated to decrease slightly this year.

Locally, the demand in San Francisco and the Sunset District will continue to be desirable and strong, and supply is still ever so limited.

As you can see, with the least amount of homes selling in the Sunset annually for the past decade, demand still outweighs supply and though we do not see the torrid pace of the peak years, our real estate market is still active and should be fine.

Thus, my prediction for 2009 is that we will have a balanced real estate market, where the negotiating power will be fairly split between buyers and sellers, a continuing shortage of good inventory and level prices.

So, if you are contemplating buying for the long-term, or trading up, this will be an ideal year to do so.

John M. Lee is the president elect of the San Francisco Association of Realtors for 2009. If you have any questions, call him at (415) 447-6231.

Supervisor Carmen Chu: Pool Opens, Clean-up Day

On Saturday, Dec. 20, I had the privilege of joining two of my predecessors – Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and state Sen. Leland Yee – in the grand opening ceremonies for the new Sava Pool.

More than 100 community members, including current and former swimmers, joined the SF Recreation and Park Department for the unveiling of our treasured community recreation facility. Standing alongside Assemblywoman Ma and Sen. Yee as we cut the ribbon for the new pool was truly a remarkable experience, because it really took the efforts of three generations-worth of supervisors to see this project through.

When Sava Pool opened at 19th Avenue and Wawona Street in the 1950s, Sunset District families flocked to it, making it the most popular pool in the City. About five decades later, time and use had taken its toll, and Sava Pool closed in June 2007 for a 30-month rebuild.

Construction of the pool, which cost about $17 million, ended on time and on budget. The new Sava Pool is new in every sense of the word. There are brand new locker rooms, showers and restrooms, as well as a new multipurpose room for community events and gatherings. The old pool had six 33-yard lanes, but the new pool has eight 25-yard lanes to meet regulation size and allows for the expansion of programs at the pool.

Through a partnership with the SF Public Utilities Commission, the pool water will be partially heated by solar panels on the roof.

General admission to the pool is the same as all public pools in the City – $1 for children under 17 years and $4 for adults.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the countless numbers of community members who have worked tirelessly throughout the years to serve as important advocates of the rebuild project. Without you, the new Sava Pool would not be here today or for generations to come.

New Stern Grove/Pine Lake Park Clean-Up
Due to a large interest in keeping Pine Lake Park clean and safe for our community and pets, we have partnered with the Recreation and Park Department to begin a new monthly Stern Grove/Pine Lake Park Volunteer clean-up effort.

Our first day is Saturday, Jan. 10, from 9 to 11 a.m. Supplies will be provided for all volunteers who would like to help pick up litter, clear the dog-run area and remove graffiti. Meet at Pine Lake Park, inside Stern Grove, accessible through the parking lot at Vale Drive.

For more information, please contact our office at (415) 554-7460 or chustaff@sfgov.org. Spread the word!

Carmen Chu is a San Francisco supervisor representing District 4.

Capt. Paul Chignell: Police Beat

Most police work is responding to calls for service, whether 911 emergency or non-emergency calls when folks call 553-0123. Each and every week officers at Taraval Station respond to hundreds of calls for service, from barking dogs and medical assistance to violent crimes in progress and everything in between.

But police work is much more than responding to calls for service, traffic enforcement and the like. At the SF Police Department, and particularly at the Taraval Station, we endeavor to both solve longstanding problems and find creative ways to assist folks in need.

What do I mean by longstanding problems? Well, continuing to respond to calls at a specific address is our obligation but coming back every day to the same issue is a waste of resources and does not serve the neighborhood or the protagonists at all. Whether it is repeat domestic strife, a drug house, graffiti problem, nuisance abatement or any of a myriad of issues, we try to find a way through service providers, other city agencies or an enforcement plan to solve the problem once and for all.

Often it can be a referral, a strict law enforcement process or an abatement action by the city attorney. Sometimes it’s constant police visibility. But it is an important part of our job to solve the problem if we can.

What do I mean by creative assistance? Two instances come to mind – our scofflaw program and our ambassador outreach.

In the scofflaw example we know that unregistered vehicles are a blight on city streets. Folks are constantly calling about abandoned or semi-abandoned vehicles but we all know that the law allows vehicle owners to keep the vehicles parked for 72 hours before they have to move them one block. So many owners move the vehicles like musical chairs but they almost always come back. The law allows the police or parking control officers from the SF Department of Parking and Traffic to tow these vehicles immediately if the registration is expired by six months or more. This is chiefly the Department of Parking and Traffic’s responsibility but its scofflaw unit is understaffed and it may take weeks for them to respond and tow the vehicle. Well, we have issued a directive to the officers at Taraval Station to respond to residents who see these unregistered vehicles and we will tow them, thus removing these clunkers from public streets. It is one way to cut through the bureaucracy and assist with the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

The ambassador outreach program is unique in the City and is managed by Sgt. Robert Bohanan of the Taraval Station. Many victims of crime, even violent crime, make a police report and never hear from anyone again. Most crimes have no identifiable suspect, no leads to investigate at the outset and therefore no follow up is warranted.

We track all of these cases and do outreach to victims a day or two after the report is filed. Our emphasis is on folks living alone, the elderly, and information in the report that would lead us to believe the victim may need services. There are an array of public and private services that are available but many people do not know where to go to get them.

Whether it is counseling, crime prevention, nutrition or any type of assistance, we make those referrals for victims of crime. So, send us your longstanding crime problems and don’t hesitate to suggest some creative ideas that are related to police work that we may consider.

Happy New Year.

Capt. Paul Chignell is the commanding officer at the Taraval Police Station.

Sandie Wernick: Pacific Catch РSunset

I have enjoyed the Marina Pacific Catch several times and was delighted to find a new location at Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way, right across from Golden Gate Park. There’s also a third location in Corte Madera in Marin County.

Behind the Sunset’s Pacific Catch building is a small parking lot, a joy to find in the Sunset!

Pacific Catch is a lively place that serves large portions, creatively presented, and friendly service. It’s only been open a few months and has a “new building” feel to it. It’s beautiful, spacious and very comfortable.

The menu features seafood from the Pacific Ocean with a Pacific Rim twist. We were seated in a booth with a good view of the high ceilings, small blue tile work, lots of wood, large paintings of – what else? – fish illuminated by hanging lamps.

It’s quite larger than the Marina locale, but what we really came for was the food, hoping it would feature the same high-quality, fresh and original selections as its counterpart. It did, and we loved it.

We started with the miso soups. I had the Signature Miso, which is a house-made blend of red and white miso with tofu and scallions ($2.95). It was incredible and I had another serving packed up to take home for later. My sister had the Shiitake Miso, which featured the Signature Miso with shiitake mushrooms and asparagus ($3.95).

The California salmon hot sandwich with grilled salmon, avocado, sliced tomato and a citrus aioli ($9.50) was very fresh and tasty and the aioli was lightly applied. The portion was very generous.

I had a meal-sized salad comprised of fresh grilled salmon with asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, baby tomatoes, crispy salmon skin “croutons” and citrus miso dressing ($12.95). I particularly enjoyed the salmon skin croutons. Everything was beautifully arranged.

Even though we were full, we couldn’t resist sharing a little dessert. We chose the Passion Mango Cheesecake, made with passion fruit, mango and lime zest ($5.95)
Ð totally refreshing and incredibly creamy.

There’s one menu for lunch and another for dinner. The range of food includes the miso soups, sashimi-style appetizers, sushi rolls, and various starters, including Baja shrimp ceviche ($7.50), spicy Cabo calamari ($8.95) and Wakame seaweed salad ($4.50). Sweet potato and traditional French fries are served with meals.

The kid’s menu is also well-priced and should appeal to the younger set.

Reservations are requested but not required. Pacific Catch offers group dining, gift cards, party platters and semi-private parties for those who want fun dining in a beautiful setting, with guaranteed fresh and tasty selections.

This is a lovely inventive/creative dining experience with reasonable prices (nothing over $20), terrific service, good cooking and a comfortable ambiance.
Can you ask for anything more?

The food, ambiance and service will bring you back to this gem of an Inner Sunset District seafood restaurant again and again.

Sandie Wernick has been a marketing, public relations and advertising executive for 25 years (Wernick Marketing Group) specializing in restaurants, hotels, travel and lifestyle accounts.

Supervisor Carmen Chu: School Assignment Process

After receiving many phone calls and letters from concerned parents regarding their child’s school assignment, I requested a public hearing at the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee to discuss the San Francisco Unified School District’s school admissions process.

Currently, the school district uses a “diversity index” to place students, which can sometimes result in a student being assigned to a school far from their home in an effort to create diversity at schools. Parents at the hearing expressed concerns that their children would have to spend hours riding public transportation to and from school.

At the hearing on April 17, members of the school district gave an overview of the admissions process and discussed some results of the current school assignment system.

Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh indicated that the school district, with School Board approval, will begin the process of reviewing and evaluating the school assignment system. Please contact our office if you are interested in this issue so we can include you in future joint efforts with the school district and School Board.

Ocean Beach Renovation in the Works
Many will agree that we can improve conditions along Ocean Beach. In an attempt to do so, the Ocean Beach Vision Council was formed with the goal of developing a set of planning alternatives, with a 30 to 50 year horizon, for the beach.

I will be working jointly with other members of the council, which includes Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Superintendent Brian O’Neill, Jared Blumenfeld of the Department of the Environment, Scott Preston of the environment-based planning and design firm EDAW, Clark Manus of Heller Manus Architects, Jean Rogers of ARUP, Lara Truppelli of the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, and Gabriel Metcalf of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

In the upcoming months, I will work with the council to ensure community input for a master plan for Ocean Beach. It is crucial to make sure the council’s plans are developed with and supported by the community.

For more information or to offer feedback, call my office at (415) 554-7460 or e-mail chustaff@sfgov.org.

Carmen Chu is a San Francisco supervisor representing District 4.